Pike River claims Kate Wilkinson

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson has resigned her portfolio (Photo TV3 News)

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson has resigned her portfolio in the wake of the Pike River report released this afternoon - which called the disaster that claimed the lives of 29 men "preventable."

In a statement, Prime Minister John Key says Ms Wilkinson’s decision to resign is a personal decision in response to the magnitude of the tragedy.

"It is the honourable thing to do.

"I considered it proper for me to accept her resignation from the Labour portfolio," Mr Key says.

The Pike River Royal Commission is recommending a new crown agency be set up to focus solely on the country's health and safety.

The commission, chaired by Christchurch-based High Court Justice Graham Panckhurst, has released its findings almost two years after the November 19, 2010, explosion which killed 29 Pike River miners on the West Coast.

The recommendations include:

  • Setting up a new crown agency solely focused on health and safety. It would have an executive board accountable to a minister. It would be responsible for administering health and safety in line with strategies agreed with the responsible minister and should provide policy advice to the minister.
     
  • Setting up an effective regulatory framework for underground coal mining. This would include establishing an expert task force to carry out the work. Its members would include health and safety experts and industry, regulator and worker health and safety representatives, supported by specialist technical experts.
     
  • Better collaborartion by regulators to ensure health and safety is considered as early as possible.
     
  • A change in the crown minerals regime to ensure health and safety is an integral part of permit allocation and monitoring.
     
  • A review of the statutory responsibilities of directors for health and safety in the workplace to better reflect their governance responsibilities.
     
  • The health and safety regulator should issue an approved code of practice to guide directors on how good governance practices can be used to manage health and safety risks.
     
  • Directors should rigorously review and monitor their organisation's compliance with health and safety law and best practice.
     
  • Appropriate health and safety training for managers in underground coal mines.
     
  • The health and safety regulator should issue an approved code of practice to guide managers on health and safety risks, drawing on both their legal responsibilities and best practice.
     
  • An extension of the current regulations imposing general health and safety duties on the statutory mine manager to include detailed responsibilities for overseeing critical features of the company's health and safety management systems.
     
  • Worker participation in health and safety in underground coal mines should be improved through legislative and administrative changes.
     
  • The regulator should supervise the granting of mining qualifications to mining managers and workers.
     
  • Urgent attention needs to go on emergency management in underground coal mines. Operators should be required to have a current and comprehensive emergency management plan which is audited and tested regularly.
     
  • An urgent review of the implementation of the coordinated incident management system in underground coal mine emergencies.
     
  • Legislative support for the activities of the New Zealand Mines Rescue Service. The adequacy and fairness of the current levies imposed on the mines to fund the services also need to be reviewed.
     
  • Operators of underground coal mines should be required to have modern equipment and facilities. This includes facilities suitable for self-rescue by workers during an emergcy.

The commission also wants legislation on worker participation to be strengthened, which means check inspectors appointed by the union should also be reinstated, but must have special expertise in underground coal mining.

Inferior to other countries

In the report, Justice Panckhurst says although the health and safety act remains generally fit for purpose, New Zealand's health and safety record is inferior to that of other comparable countries.

The rate of workplace fatalities is higher than in Britain, Australia and Canada; worse than the OECD average; and has remained static in recent years.

One of the report's diagrams shows that by 2009 there were nearly four workplace deaths in New Zealand for every 100,000 workers, compared to just over two for every 100,000 Australian workers.

Justice Panckhurst says the Pike River tragedy was preventable but administrative and regulatory reforms are urgently needed to reduce the likelihood of similar events.

"The Pike River tragedy contains lessons for government, regulators, employers and workers, especially in high-hazard industries such as coal mining, where the frequency of major accidents is low, but accidents can have catastrophic results."

He says the effectiveness of the mining inspectorate had been declining for many years and by the time of the tragedy, the Department of Labour only had two mining inspectors.

Earlier today, the prime minister labelled the report a sobering read and said in the interests of speeding up the process for everyone involved, the government would be adopting most of the recommendations.

Apologised to the families
Mr Key says the labour department has to acknowledge its part in regulatory failings identified by the report.

He apologised to the families of the 29 men who lost their lives in the tragedy and has described today as a particularly poignant and difficult day for them.

He says while the report lays much of the blame on the Pike River coal company, the department needs to recognise its role in the November 2010 tragedy.

"As head of that department, Kate Wilkinson made the right decision today."

However, he says it was a sad day to accept her resignation.

He says the report points out there has been an underground coal mining tragedy about once every generation and it must stop.

The government is now looking at ways not to repeat this sort of tragedy.

However, he has refused to play the blame game and point the finger at Helen Clark's Labour government for its part in the department's health and safety failings over the years.

He does not believe the department deliberately misled the minister over health and safety failings.

"Nor do I believe the minister ever knew there was a systemic failure in the department."

bcunningham@nbr.co.nz

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26 Comments & Questions

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Perhaps Paula Bennett will also now do the honourable thing.

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I suppose this gets her out of a public apology for misleading the NZ media and public about Part 6A!

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Not sure why the minister 'had 'to resign. This tradgedy was set up back in the early days of the mines life, when certain enviromental pressure groups and political interests were able to hold the Clark government to ransom, as the price of coalition; and DOC backtracking on permission to build all three vent systems as originally planned.
Strange how the findings of the Judge don't seem to reflect the 'real world'.
More bureaucracy won't prevent such tradgedies.

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I have to say that I am extremly disappopinted with this report. If the judge had allthe information given to him he should resign, If he didn't then why not. The Labour Government, The Green's and DOC were the prime cause of this accident/tradgedy stopping the 3 vents caused this.
R.J. Robert I concur with your views/staemnet on this matter.

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This is patently untrue BS. Read the report !

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Anyone notice between this government and the previous one ?

The previous one would have change the law retrospectively...
ala, Harry dung hoofer.

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I think you will the current government is not above changing laws retrospectively.

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retains ministerial salary by virtue of other portfolios?

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and she is a disaster there also.

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Very honourable and admirable of Kate Wilikinson.

It'a a pity that the Pike River baord wasn't as honourable - hiding behind the management of the company by asigning all blame on management.

Surely now there must be charges against the management and directors

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Did Kate fall, or was she pushed ?

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Impressed with how quick this story appeared after the report was released. Also well summarised and easy to read. Keep it up NBR.

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Based on her performance in various areas,no great loss.
And if Key runs true to form she will not only retain all benefits and pop up again soon.
liberte

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On the continuum of 'Consequences', Wilkinson's resignation resides somewhere between Symbolic and Window-Dressing.

Just a bit of shuffling; not too different from musical chairs.

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A token gesture in my view, but pleased to be rid of this arrogant minister.

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All from an industry that has put a great deal of time and effort into ensuring succesive governments "streamline" the compliance process ... ie self management and reporting ... and now the tax payer will be left picking up the tab for another failure of private business! Thanks Pike River Coy. May those who lost their lives RIP.

Kate Wilkinson should resign as The Minister of Conservation too, cos DoC is unable to do it's job as well!

Esq.

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I feel sorry for the minister in this case. The real culprits are the directors! Dow , Natrass and co should be prosecuted. They did not follow up the ABC of health and safety. These guys are not competent to be in any governance role whatsoever.

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Good, solid recommendations. Well done to the Royal Commission.

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I've got a better idea. They should just admit the whole Ministry of Labour is useless, ineffectual, has not proved fit for purpose and should be disbanded post-haste.

Let the whole lot of them fall on their swords together and get rid of a basically worthless ministry that is holding back NZ businesses, saving hundreds of millions in the process, what's not to like?

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Good riddance.

The sad thing is that Key will no doubt appoint someone just as incompetent as Wilkinson to maintain National's "hands off everything" mode.

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All the more reason to explore open-cast mining in the future. And when will PM Key resign his post as Minister of Tourism after an unbecoming remark about the supposed intelligence of an international sports star? If he said such a remark it is most damaging to New Zealand's off-shore reputation and makes life somewhat difficult for Kiwis overseas.

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"Pike River claims Kate Wilkinson"

How?!

Still a Minister, still in Cabinet, still has portfolios, still on the same pay, still has all the perks that go with the job.

She just has less responsibility and work to do, now.

Oh, by resigning one portfolio, it will make her more competent in the others she retains? Is that it?

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Why are we pooring over the facts looking for criminals when mining has always been dangerous and the staff are paid with that in mind.
Yes this is tragic but it is more tragic that between this and the CTV saga we as a country are stuck looking back and looking for blame. For god sake when will we look forward and try to move on from mistakes rather than forever be looking for why something happened and more to the point Who is to blame. I am totally over the witch hunting.

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Nathan I guess it's because there are still a few of us left in New Zealand who think having a 17th century attitude toward mine site safety is criminal and paying workers a pittance before killing them does deserve accountability.

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I agree that 17th century working conditions should be modernised but it would be better to focus on this than try to undo the hurt and pain of all those involved in this by flogging the dead horse that in the NZ justice / review system is and going after "the bad guys". If we spent half of what will be spent worrying about what could have been on actually doing something then it would be a safer industry...
Paying them a pittance... they would have been on solid wages - guess compared to yourself that could be a pittance?

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Pike River is now owned by Solid Energy, and the chairman is a politically appointed bureaucrat, and not a practical person who has been at the coal face (excuse the pun). Until we get real people at the top who know what construction is about, all this will happen again. The Solid Energy chairman was notably the CEO of Watercare when a person was killed by methane in an Auckland pipeline, and therfore should ultimately carry the responsibility for that death. No doubt he will worm his way out of it. Kate's resignation is only window dressing.

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